Ukraine’s steps to promote healthy nutrition and tobacco control in schools embrace hopes for the future

Ukraine’s steps to promote healthy nutrition and tobacco control in schools embrace hopes for the future

Ukraine is investing in healthier futures for its families and children. As part of a comprehensive approach to improving health, including recent efforts to implement a ban on foods high in trans fats within the country, the WHO Country Office of Ukraine and the WHO/Europe Special Initiative for NCDs and Innovation (SNI), in coordination with the Ministry of Health of Ukraine (MoH), are building capacity in the areas of healthy nutrition and tobacco control.

Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) remain the major health challenge in every country of the WHO European Region – this is true even in emergencies, including long-lasting military conflicts and wars.

In the Region, NCDs, including cardiovascular diseases, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes, cause around 90% of all deaths. NCDs are tightly connected to common risk factors: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and tobacco and alcohol use are risk factors.

“It is important to address these risk factors that kill many people, even during emergencies. We know that people caught in emergencies have higher exposure to NCD risk factors, such as unhealthy diets, tobacco and alcohol,” said Dr Kremlin Wickramasinghe, WHO/Europe Regional Adviser on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

“We also know that, during emergencies, children and families may face very specific problems related to NCD risk factors. The latest data from the WHO European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative collected during the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that restrictions and emergency policies have changed the daily habits of many people, reduced physical activity levels and increased consumption of sweets among school-aged children.”

Protecting school children’s health in emergencies

Schools have always played a crucial role in shaping children’s health habits. They serve as an ideal environment where children can learn about healthy behaviours, but they are also where children can have access to healthy foods, physical activity opportunities, smoke-free environments, and school staff who may be role models.

In early June 2023, a capacity-building workshop, conducted by the SNI with experts from the Finnish Institute of Public Health and the European Federation of Associations for Dietetics, focused on strengthening health promotion in the context of nutrition, obesity and tobacco control.

The workshop also provided an opportunity for participants, including representatives from the Public Health Center of the MoH and all 25 oblast (i.e. national administrative divisions) centers for disease control and prevention (CDCPs), who work on NCD prevention and health promotion in communities, to work together to establish new, innovative methods and stronger professional networks for the promotion of health nutrition in schools and effective tobacco control measures.

“Tobacco use and unhealthy diet are the main contributors to NCDs and premature mortality from NCDs. By building the institutional capacity of CDCPs, in coordination with the MoH, we aim to make them instrumental and committed to promoting health and reducing these risk factors in the communities and educational settings. We strive to empower public health professionals to become change-makers and health advocates,” said Jarno Habicht, WHO Representative in Ukraine.

Long-term benefits for Ukraine

Ukrainian authorities are striving to improve health and well-being in the country for many years to come. Even today, when the resources are stretched and many schools remain closed due to the ongoing war of the Russian Federation on Ukraine, the Ukrainian government is investing in the health of the population, including the implementation of a ban on foods high in trans fats and a set of comprehensive legislative measures to regulate both conventional and novel tobacco and nicotine products.

“We see that, in this emergency, the healthy routines of children and families are disrupted,” said Dr Gauden Galea, WHO/Europe Strategic Adviser to the Regional Director, Special Initiative on NCDs and Innovation. “We need to ensure that, when today’s Ukrainian children are adults, they will have the benefits of good health. This is a long-term investment deeply rooted in the interests of the population; an investment that will pay dividends for generations to come.”

Source: WHO